This article is the second of a series of six articles about the four-cylinder front-engine Porsches – the 944, the 924S and the early 924..
- Part One: Reintroducing the Front Engine Water Cooled Porsches
- Part Two: How to Buy a Great 944 or 924S (or how to NOT buy a bad one)
- Part Three: 944/924S Maintenance Made Easy
- Part Four: Making your 944/924S Into Your Daily Driver
- Part Five: The 944/924S for Track and Race
- Part Six: The Early Car – the 77-82 924
Part Two: How to Buy a Great 944 or 924S (or how to NOT buy a bad one)
The front engine water cooled Porsche continues to be a great buy in the Porsche market, even as prices have increased in the last few years. There are generally two types of buyers for these cars. First is the Porsche buyer who is looking for a car that can be a daily driver as well as an occasional autocross or HPDE car. The other is the owner of a much higher end Porsche that wants something else to play with that is not too expensive to maintain or purchase. Both of these groups want a car that they can purchase relatively inexpensively, and both groups can have a successful purchase and ownership experience if they follow a few simple rules.
Unfortunately, many of these cars have led difficult lives, especially in the past decade or two. While neglect can cause many issues, poor quality repairs and maintenance using backyard methodologies can be difficult and expensive to fix. A car that has not been driven in a few (or many) years but “ran well when parked” can be a money pit. “Needs fuel pump to be perfect” is another one that is common with neglected examples. If it only needs a fuel pump, put one in it and drive it!
So if you find a car that is not running or not running well, here are a few things to know:
- If the timing belt is/was broken, one or more exhaust valves are probably bent. That means pulling the head for rebuild, new belts, seals, pulleys and tensioners, and do the water pump at the same time.
- If it seems like the fuel pump failed, it may be the reference sensors that have failed. The sensors tell the computer that the engine is turning, which then tells the ignition and fuel system to function. The sensors can be replaced fairly easily, but the plastic connectors can also get hard and break, meaning a repair to the harness – not so easy.
- Air leaks in the intake and/or vacuum systems are common for neglected cars, and may be fairly easy to fix.
The problem here is that none of these can be diagnosed without changing a bunch of parts or taking it to a technician. At the time of purchase, it could be a roll of the dice.
That means that you should probably leave the “great father-and-son project” cars to those who have trailers and parts cars. Spend what is needed to get the best running, driving and stopping car that you can afford. At least you will know what you have and can drive it to the parts store. Another benefit is that you can then check the brakes, the clutch, the cooling system, the transmission and the amount of smoke from the tailpipe as part of your inspection – items that you cannot check if the car isn’t running and driving.
Which To Buy?
There are four classes of these cars to consider – the early 77-82 924, the “Series I” 944 from 83 to mid-85, the Series II 944 with its many iterations, and the 87-88 924S. Let’s start at the beginning with some recommendations:
Early 924: These are good, solid cars that went through a lot of development in their six years of sales, and there were some 43,000 of them sold in North America. Many of them are gone, left to waste away with broken systems or just plain worn out. (I had a ’78 924, passed it to my son, and last told it had over a quarter of a million miles on it.) The advice here is that this model has too many quirks to be a good daily driver and too little horsepower to deliver a satisfying experience as a Porsche in today’s market. Unless you absolutely have to get one of these, just walk away to something else. That said, the early 924 has shown a resurgence in the market lately, so a good solid example may be worth looking at.
Series I 944: This is the first run of the 944 model, and they are currently increasing in value for good, solid cars. They share the dashboard with the early 924 as well as other suspension parts, but incorporate the “new” 2.5L Porsche engine. These can make great entry-level cars because of their relative mechanical simplicity. As the beginning of the 944 line, the Series II cars have big improvements that came after the 85-and-a-half model.
Series II 944: If you have to have a 944, choose here. The updated dashboard is more effective with air conditioning and overall functionality although the dashboard gauge lighting has suffered over the decades. The variety of models helps you choose exactly what you want in a 944, and prices vary depending on condition, equipment and specific sub-model. Here is what you will find:
- Base 944: 2.5L 8-valve 147HP engine, base equipment. 85.5-88.
- 944 2.7: 2.7L 8 valve 165HP engine, 89 only.
- 944S: 2.5L 16-valve 190HP dual overhead cam engine. 87-89.
- 944 Turbo: 2.5L 217HP turbocharged engine, 85.5-88.
- 944 Turbo S: 2.5L 247HP turbocharged engine, 88 only.
- 944 Turbo: 2.5L 247HP turbocharged engine, 89-91.
- 944S2: 3.0L 208HP engine, 89-91.
So you can see that in the Series II 944, there are a lot of choices. Some models, such as the 944 Turbo S, were very low production numbers and therefore rare today – and commanding prices that reflect its demand.
924S: The 924S was an entry-level Porsche that was sold in North America for only two years, 87-88. The 924S has the early 924 narrow body with the Series I 944 engine and driveline. It also incorporates the 944 Series II rear suspension with aluminum suspension arms in place of the Series I steel. While there are many who just don’t care of the narrow body look, there were about 23,000 of them sold in North America – most of them 1987 models. The 924S represents a great value that has many of the engineering improvements of the Series II cars in the narrow body. Prices are comparable to the Series I 944 or less.
Scary Ad Text – Run Away!
- “Ran when parked” means doesn’t run now.
- “AC needs charged” means the AC is complete trash.
- “Needs TLC” means no one has done anything on it in decades.
- “Tires are 70%” means that they are shot and fifteen years old.
- “Needs fuel pump” means that it quit and no one knows why.
- “Lots of extra parts” means that they replaced a lot of stuff for no reason.
- “Worth $XX,XXX” means they looked it up online and this is what a perfect one will sell for – not this one.
Buying the Right Car for YOU
Deciding on which model is right for you and your purposes is the first decision to make. That is personal and cannot be decided here, although the later models and the turbos can be more expensive to purchase and maintain. Once you have made that decision, find the best example that you can for your price range. If you only want to spend what seems to be at the lower end of the model that you want, rethink what you want to get…in other words, don’t buy a cheap turbo just because you want a turbo. It will cost more in the long run.
Here are some tips to help you decide which running, driving and stopping car to buy:
A friend bought a Series I 944 that was not running right. The owner had only had the car for about six months, but had no idea how to work on it. The car was in great condition otherwise, and had a set of desirable Fuch wheels. He bought the car for $2500. Investigating the rough running condition, we found that someone had removed the intake manifold and reinstalled it without new intake gaskets. New gaskets, new plugs and a general look-around yielded a great running Series I 944!
- Rust in the Battery Area: This is a major failure point on these cars. The bottom rusts and then leaks to the inside passenger floor. Many are repaired with fiberglass and resin, which then cracks and leaks. Look for the extent of damage and the quality of the repair.
- Paint: Repainting a car, even at a cut-rate paint shop, can run over $4K. Keep that in mind.
- Clutch replacement: Parts are $600-$800 and labor is over a thousand. It is a difficult job.
- Torn front seats: This is typical of these cars on the market, especially the driver’s seat. Recover kits for the front seats cost $400 and up, plus labor, each.
- Carpet: Replacement carpet sets are $650 and up, plus labor.
- Belt Service: Replacing the timing and balance shaft belts often also requires replacing the pulleys. While there replace the front engine seals, a common failure point. And do the water pump at the same time. Plan on opver$1K to have this done.
- Shocks and Struts: Worn shocks and struts are relatively inexpensive and not expensive to have installed. You probably do not need high-end race shocks like Koni or Bilsteins unless you are going to track the car.
- Brakes: Rotors and pads are relatively inexpensive. Look for rust buildup on the calipers, as well as signs of leakage. Check the fluid for condition. Rebuilt calipers seem to have been in short supply in the past year or so.
- Suspension Bushings: Inexpensive and easy to replace in most cases.
Paint, clutch and seats are the big items here. That said, learning how to work on these cars will save you money on labor but can require a rather steep learning curve. As these cars are a favorite of the home mechanic, there are plenty of how-to videos on YouTube and lots of discussions on forum boards online. You can still make mistakes, but not as many as you might think.
Pre-purchase Inspection (PPI)
We cannot stress the importance of a pre-purchase inspection. Arrange to take the car to a technician who can put the car on a lift. We have seen cars that have had great paint and interior but have been a complete disaster underneath, especially cars that have lived in snow and salt country. Unlike the more expensive counterparts, these cars have been used year-round in these environments, and rusty components show that use.
To be safe, only buy a 944 or 924S that is running, driving and stopping. You will rarely find a car that is perfect, but if the major systems are good and the rest of it is acceptable, you can fix the little things. Adjust the price that you pay with the assumption that there will be some expense in repairs and “deferred maintenance” that you cannot see. And finally, don’t be afraid to walk away from a car that you don’t feel is right, be it condition or price. Also remember that the newest of these cars are still 25 years old. Things wear out.
The deal of a lifetime comes along about once a week. Get the car that right for you.
Next time: Part Three: 944/924S Maintenance Made Easy